by Dare Lawal
The floor of the senate on Wednesday was turned into the scene of angry confrontation between two senators, Kabiru Garba Marfa of Zamfara and Paulinus Igwe of Ebonyi, over the national assembly legislation which compels the president to appear before it yearly to deliver a state of the nation address. The lawmakers were almost descending to blows before their colleagues intervened and separated them.
The president had recently told the national assembly that he could not sign the bill into law unless certain aspects of it were amended. It was thus the subject of deliberations in the senate chambers for hours on Wednesday.
Here’s how Premium Times reported it:
As passed, the bill will make it mandatory for Mr. Jonathan and future presidents to present State of the Nation address on the first legislative day of every July before a joint sitting of the National Assembly.
Also, both chambers will have the right to summon the president if he fails to appear in person on the date.
Mr. Jonathan said the bill, awaiting his assent since March, contravenes the constitution which already spells out the conditions for his appearing before a joint session of the National Assembly.
The president offered to approve the bill if the timeline for the address is adjusted to allow him 30 days after the first legislative day; and if he is allowed the flexibility to inform the leadership of the two chambers if he is unable to appear in person, and to have the power to delegate the vice president to deliver the address.
While the constitution bars the president from amending a passed bill, the senate’s internal rule allows him; a major issue which split members apart on which to follow.
At a session to consider the request on Wednesday, lawmakers sternly criticised the president for seeking an amendment only after the law has been passed by both houses, and pushed for a veto of the president’s refusal.
“Sections 88 b and c. 58(of the constitution) says once a bill is proposed by NASS, the president has three options. Let’s take advantage of Section 88, send it to the conference committee and let them advise us if we should override the president’s veto,” the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said.
As the debates became unusually stormy, Mr. Ekweremadu proposed the deliberation be suspended to allow for more consultation with the House of Representatives and lawyers. The move was rejected by majority of the members who feared deference may save the matter in favour of the president.
When the Senate president put the question for an adjournment, those opposed secured an easy win, and the chamber soon degenerated into chaos with Messrs Igwe and Marfa trading barbs and aiming for each other, refreshing memories of the years the senate was renowned at for violence over repeated leadership change.
The duo were promptly restrained from attacking each other. It remained unclear what particularly irked the two lawmakers.
The Senate later adjourned deliberation on the bill.
At a briefing later, Senate spokesperson, Enyinnaya Abaribe, denied the brawl was over the president’s address. He said the lawmakers only reacted over a motion due for presentation on Thursday, which will consider a planned arming of vigilantes in Zamfara State.
Senate president, Mr. Mark, urged for calm and cautioned that the matter cannot be resolved through “the fists”.